Behind the scenes at Labs
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 

Labs researcher elected as first ONF fellow


jeanaward-blogfeed.gifJean (l) receives ONF Fellowship from Dan Pitt

By Curt Hopkins, Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs

In late September of last year, Jean Tourrilhes was elected the very first Open Networking Foundation Fellow for his leadership role in OpenFlow and SDN.

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is the international forum for the promotion and adoption of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) through open standards development; and OpenFlow is an open source protocol used by an SDN controller to program packet forwarding rules into switches, centralizing packet-forwarding decisions.  Several models in HPE’s networking switch portfolio support OpenFlow.

“Jean was recognized for having established the rigorous and meticulous process for evolving the OpenFlow protocol specification,” said ONF’s announcement.

This work on the protocol is hard to overstate, according to ONF’s Executive Director, Dan Pitt.

Form for function

In March of 2011, ONF inherited the OpenFlow protocol from Stanford, Pitt said, “where on Monday afternoons a bunch of interested people had met in Room 104 of the Gates Computer Science Building to hash out the details of the protocol.” Jean was one of those people.

But because the ONF was a body that represented a host of companies using the protocol, and because administration-by-bunch is not the most corporate of processes, Jean had to figure out a way to harness the enthusiasm and knowledge of the independent-minded contributors, while organizing it in a way that encouraged and preserved excellence.

“Our mission was to make OpenFlow a real, commercial-grade, industrial-strength standard,” Pitt explained. Tourrilhes was the key to that transition. “I had no idea how to corral this gang and set them in a productive direction. There was no leader. I thought we were sunk. But somehow Jean stepped in and brought order out of chaos. People that would never listen to me listened to him, and he succeeded in organizing what we called the Extensibility Working Group. Jean does not have a bullying bone in his body so how he got everyone in line I cannot explain, but he did.”

“A group of friends needed to move to a business situation,” Tourrilhes told Behind the Scenes. “The protocol also needed to apply across the world with all the people involved.” So, a development scenario needed to outgrow its amateur status without petrifying.

“One of my tasks was to keep us from devolving into other organizations’ processes which become very stiff,” he said. “We wanted to keep the startup vibe, the trial and error. We did have some failures, but we had a good success rate overall.”

The award

“It was a surprise!” said Tourrilhes about his recognition, especially given he had left the ONF not long before that.

The awards ceremony at the Santa Clara Marriott took place at lunch on a Wednesday during the ONF’s twice-yearly working session. The attendees, as from the beginning of the group, were there to work. But the awards ceremony was a nice bit of punctuation, an acknowledgement that the work gets done by people and recognizing them is not inconsequential, which Pitt did when he spoke to us about Tourrilhes.

As estimable as they were, it wasn’t just Tourrilhes’ people skills that merited this first ever fellowship, Pitt said.

“Jean developed a rigorous process for progressing the OpenFlow protocol,” he explained. “He devised procedures for introducing, validating, testing, and documenting features. He instituted formal issue- and bug-tracking and formulated release schedules.”

“Perhaps as important as his process role was his role as an expert in the protocol and its commercial implementation,” said Pitt. “The first OpenFlow network was installed in Gates Computer Science at Stanford with HP switches, and Jean knew exactly how features would and should be implemented, and why they were needed. So he was as strong a technical contributor as anyone, and his leadership and management of the group were not biased toward HP or against any other vendor. His credibility was without challenge.”

Back to work

Tourrilhes is currently working  on the networking architecture for The Machine.

“We’re busy working on some interesting concepts within the networking component.”

One of those interesting concepts is how The Machine will communicate with other intra-datacenter computing nodes and the external world.

Having Tourrilhes around to puzzle out things like this is a real advantage to Labs, the same sort of advantage that ONF recognized by making him their first fellow.  

0 Kudos
About the Author


Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs

Joseph Payne


Thank you for your leadership in helping to make the OpenFlow Switch commercial viable. 


Congratulations, Jean! A well-deserved honor for a pioneering researcher. We're proud to work with people like you across Hewlett Packard Labs!